The Politics of Giving: Philanthropy, Charity, and Humanitarianism
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Division: Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts
Course Number: LANT 2815
Course Format: Seminar
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: Yes
Should we give our spare change to a homeless woman on the subway? Or would we feel better if we donated to a local charity, where the donation can be monitored and accounted for and we can know exactly how the money was spent? What goes into our decisions of when, how and to whom to give? In his classical work The Gift (1990) Marcel Mauss emphasized the gift’s role in maintaining social and moral order. Mauss hints that the social obligation to give forms the philosophical basis of charity. In this course we will explore anthropological approaches to various forms of giving, including religious charity, ‘rational’ philanthropy, and ‘universal’ humanitarianism. What kinds of relationships and moral communities do these different forms of giving constitute between giver and receiver? Is secular giving different from religious giving? We will attend to the historical evolution of practices of giving, reading anthropological studies of the gift ranging from the exchange rituals of ancient societies examined by Mauss, to the organized humanitarian assistance programs of modern industrial nations. We will explore conceptions of giving and charity in various philosophical texts (Aristotle, Derrida) and religious traditions (Buddhim, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam). This course will satisfy requirements in Reading.
Open to Undergraduate students.